Lions to face their nemesis in semis
NOW for the Hurricanes the only New Zealand team the Lions failed to beat last season, home and away.
The men from Wellington are also the last team to have beaten the Lions at home in Super Rugby, a 50-17 win on April 30 last year. The Canes hammered the Lions that day, but it turned the Lions’ season around as they won their next six games at Ellis Park, including beating the Crusaders and Highlanders in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and go into this Saturday’s semi-final having not lost a further eight games on home soil this year.
The Lions’ narrow quarter-final win against the Sharks on Saturday (23-21) has ensured they will also face the team that beat them in the Wellington final last season, the Canes getting past the Brumbies on Friday for a place in the last four.
They will be the first New Zealand opposition the Lions will face this season after being drawn to only play against the Australian teams.
Last season, however, the Lions got the better of all the Kiwis sides bar the Hurricanes, but coach Johan Ackermann feels his side have had the perfect tune-up for the clash in facing the Sharks this last weekend.
“The Hurricanes are a team that play in your face and that’s what the Sharks were very good at today (Saturday), so it was like a trial for us,” said the Lions boss.
He added he’d learned a lot about their semi-final opponents since last year’s meetings. “They like to put teams under pressure and they did that to us last year, so hopefully we’ll handle that pressure better this time,” he said.
“Maybe we won’t run as much as we did a year ago, but rather kick better tactically. We must also remember it’s a year later and the teams have changed since we last met here. We’ll do our homework and then prepare accordingly.”
The Lions skipper Jaco Kriel (pictured) also felt the Sharks’ in-your-face approach on Saturday was exactly what his team needed before the semi-finals.
“We didn’t want it to be easy (against the Sharks) and it wasn’t.
“It’s in hard games like these that you learn the most, where character comes to the fore,” he said.
Ackermann added he wanted his players to stick to the attacking style of rugby that has got them to this point in the competition, despite being “caught out” twice in two weeks by the Sharks, who scored tries off errors made deep in Lions territory.
“Our plan is the right way,” said Ackermann.
“There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s place for ambition, but we just need to be more accurate and make better decisions.
“We shouldn’t have tried fancy passes inside our 22-metre area (which led to Kobus van Wyk scoring an easy try on Saturday) rather Lionel (Mapoe) or Elton (Jantjies) should have taken the ball up. Also, hopefully our passes will stick this coming weekend and the ball will bounce right.
“It really is only about decision-making and accuracy there’s nothing wrong with our plan.”